City must stop swoopers, protect locals

Submitted by: R.E. Graswich

Oakland deserves credit for one thing. At least the city tried to create a cannabis ordinance that provides opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

The opportunities are called "equity solutions." They seek to build legal protections for local residents who have been involved in the cannabis trade for decades -- sometimes generations -- while working in the shadows and trying to avoid prosecution.

Now that cannabis is legal in California, many of those local pioneers are vulnerable to being swept aside by corporate-funded outsiders in the race for permits and licenses.

A practice known as "swooping" has hurt legacy cannabis professionals around the state, with outside money pouring in to acquire land, lawyers, lobbyists and permits.

Last week, Oakland tried to revise its May 2016 cannabis ordinances and make it easier for local residents to obtain business permits in the booming marijuana industry.

Equity solutions advanced by the Oakland City Council instantly became politicized along racial and neighborhood lines. Council members were creating laws in real time, from the podium, an excellent way to for city leaders to look foolish and produce thoughtless, impossible regulations.

But the mess in Oakland shouldn't imperil equity solutions across California. Creating an equitable process for cannabis permits and licenses is important. Every city and county should be thinking about it.

Attracted by Prop. 64 and the state's 2015 legislative package to regulate medical marijuana, swoopers pour money, lobbyists and legal firepower into communities that appear poised to welcome cannabis investment.

Swoopers acquire prime property and line up support for the local permits needed to obtain state licenses. They muscle to the head of the line. Every permit obtained by a swooper is a permit that won't be held by a truly local entrepreneur.

The new regulatory world should create opportunities for the people who fought for years to see cities, counties and state officials liberalize their approach to cannabis. But the regulatory world is a mysterious and intimidating place for many people who have worked in the underground marijuana industry.

Unfortunately, it's neither mysterious nor intimidating for swoopers and their lawyers and lobbyists.

Equity solutions allow a community to protect against swooping. Equity provides cities and counties with home-grown values for their cannabis industries, and provide incentives for people who have been active in the trade for years.

There's no need for draconian solutions. A simple residency requirement or specific permits set aside for local entrepreneurs will discourage swooping. Outreach and community partnership is essential -- people in the local trade know each other -- and the benefits will continue long after the industry matures.

Swoopers are quick to protest equity solutions as anti-business and provincial. That's OK. Swooping isn't about communities or cannabis -- it's about profit.

No city or county in California can thrive under a permit system monopolized by carpetbaggers.